Stress and Anxiety aren’t the Same
No offense, but I can’t stand it when you say, “I get how you feel.” Because really, you don’t.
Yeah, you’ve experienced stress before. But that doesn’t mean you struggle with anxiety like I do.
Stress and anxiety aren’t the same. For starters, with stress, you know what’s worrying you. With anxiety, you often don’t. That’s why anxiety can be considered a mental disorder.*
So, although statements like, “This [insert issue here] is giving me anxiety” or “I almost had a panic attack!” are often just exaggerated and innocent, those of us who struggle with anxiety on a daily basis cringe when we hear them.
Anxiety Shapes Me
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s a part of who I am. From the outside looking in, you will see someone who is super-efficient, organized, and excellent at multi-tasking. I’m structured and stubborn, and (although it is largely thanks to my disorder) it’s part of what makes me good at my job.
But what people don’t/can’t see is what goes on in my head. My brain never stops. I think about many, many things at one time. And I worry.
The average person experiences some degree of anxiety on occasion. Taking an entrance exam tomorrow? Got a job interview? You’d be crazy if you weren’t a tiny bit anxious, at least, at some point in your life! But most people don’t have too much difficulty identifying the problem and getting over it. (Lucky them.)
Those of us with an anxiety disorder can’t “just get over it.”
One of the big mysteries is that a lot of the time, we know there isn’t a logical reason to be anxious. But we do feel terribly anxious, and our minds can’t just turn it off and think logically. There’s not much we can do about it.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Anxiety can impact relationships.
Recently, I disappointed a family member. (It happens more than I would care to admit.)
Here’s the story.
I had been dealing with quite a few stressors already–work responsibilities, mom and wife responsibilities, finances… You see, I’m a perfectionist by nature and I do not easily let go of, or move past, the imperfections in my life.
I have a very black and white view of what is “perfect” and what isn’t. My schedule needs to be in a certain order. My diet needs to be balanced. Exercise, too. My house has got to be clean, my grading and lesson planning need to be finished on time, and gosh, I hope I said the right thing to Lynn today because she gave me a funny look earlier…
Imperfections scare me. And when there are a lot of “imperfections” happening at once, I start to drown. Too much at once makes it incredibly difficult to stay afloat and breathing.
Anyway, back to the story. A family member informed me of some last-minute plans–without my knowledge, even though they involved me. I was overcome with a gripping sense of insecurity and panic. It was like a huge weight was dropped on me, pulling me even deeper underwater.
Oh my gosh that sounds so dismal! And pathetic, really. Trust me, I know. But remember, people with GAD know that there’s no logical reason to be freaking out–we just do! And we really, truly, honestly, can’t help it.
In my opinion, though, the worst part is trying to explain that ineffable anxiety to others.
How would I be able to explain to my mother-in-law the reason I didn’t want the plans to go through if I didn’t know the reason myself?
I’ve come to realize that some people take things too personally.
Sometimes, when I say no, I’m not saying no to you. I’m saying “no, I can’t handle the unexpected today.”
It’s frustrating when close ones don’t understand. It’s frustrating to them, and frustrating to me.
The mind is a funny thing. I’ll never understand why mine works the way it does. But I find rest in what I continually learn, about myself, about GAD, about how it is shaping me.
Yeah, some days I do feel like I’m drowning. It’s hard to breathe. But if I have time to process, I can come out the other end.
If you struggle like I do, know that you’re not alone. Be patient, with yourself, and with others, as they try to understand you. Trust yourself. Know when to say no. Trust God. Ultimately, He is in control, and we can find rest in that.
*Just to clarify, experiencing anxiety is normal and doesn’t mean you have a mental disorder. The mental disorder is applied to those who experience intense and excessive anxiety.
**Note: I am NOT a doctor, nor do I claim to be a mental health counselor. The information in this post is what I’ve learned to be true through my own experiences and interactions.